• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Robert Goh retires; son takes over business

ROBERT AND JASON GOH stand outside the Frankfort Street office that Robert ran for decades. Of his son succeeding him as agent-owner, Robert said, "The table has turned. I'm on his payroll now." (Photo by John McGary)

After 31 years as an agent for State Farm Insurance, most of them as an agent-owner in Versailles, Robert Goh, 68, retired June 30. "I always said I didn't want to die in the office," Goh joked from the Frankfort Street office that still bears a shadow of his name. On this day, he's visiting the man who took his place: his son, Jason, 33. "It feels good. I think he'll make a very good agent ." Robert said. "I built a business up from scratch, basically, and I want somebody that can take care of my customers; someone I can trust ." Robert said State Farm seldom allows the of an agent-owner to take over a father's agency. First, Robert gave a year's notice, then, in order to be considered to succeed his father, Jason had to go through more than a year of training and a series of interviews by company officials. "Apparently, he was the best candidate . which is a good thing all the way around - good for the customer, good for State Farm, good for Woodford County. It's just a seamless transition that way," Robert said. Robert traveled a long way to get to Woodford County. His grandparents left China in the 1930s during the country's civil war that ended in Communist rule. Robert was born in Malaysia. He came to America with $1,500 and an appointment at Union College. It was a family tradition of sorts: Robert's grandfather had met a Methodist missionary who told him about the Barbourville school, and when Robert began attending in 1966, he was following in the footsteps of an uncle who did so in 1949. After graduate school at Eastern Kentucky University, Robert owned and ran two of Lexington's first Chinese restaurants. He moved to Woodford County in 1987 after two years with State Farm. Growing up, Jason watched his father experience - and survive - the ups and downs of a salesman's life. "It is a sales job, and production is important, because . it's commission-based. If you're not making sales, you're not bringing income in. I would see the stresses, growing up - what it was like when he would have a tough day or a tough month. Just knowing . that persistency and working through it and, you know, just sticking to what your plan is. ." Jason said. "I also learned that personal touch is important - that it's not transactional. It's about building the relationship." Before deciding to try on his father's shoes, Jason, a 2000 Woodford County High graduate, worked in retail management in Tennessee and elsewhere. He came home in 2009. "A few years went by and that's when I realized I was looking for something else that wasn't going to create the constant moving. I knew that . from a career standpoint, I wanted to root myself, and being back in Woodford County after all those years, I thought, 'You know what? State Farm is a great opportunity.'" Though Jason's older sister, Jill, had worked for State Farm, he'd pushed that opportunity away for a long time because he wanted to make a name for himself. In August of 2014, the courtship between him and his father's company began. He was given assessments, put together a business plan and began to learn about the many products the company sells: from property and casualty, life and health insurance to banking, retirement and college planning. They had one thing in common: agents are paid through commissions, and agents who don't sell don't get paid. Like his father, especially in his early days, Jason knows he'll get plenty of "No thanks." He said his skin is already thickening. "It was a shock at first, getting so many 'No's.' (I had to) continue to know that for every 'No,' there's eventually going to be a 'Yes' at some point, and not to give up, but persistency is key," Jason said. Robert said when he began, there was little training and agents used microfiche, not computers. On his first day, he was given a rate book and a stack of applications. "I'm the old school. He's the new, the 21st-century agent. I'm the old, 20th century agent," Goh said. "You laid the groundwork," Jason responded. Robert said he's not sure what he'll do post-retirement. "First of all, I'm going to let my body heal. . After so many years - I've been working 50 years nonstop since I came to this country. I always joke around - I tell the kids, 'If I can make it, they can make it. I came to this country with $1,500 in my pocket and a one-way plane ticket. .'" Robert said. He'll do some traveling and volunteer work, but admits in the first few days after he retired, he felt lost. He already misses the people he worked with - coworkers and clients alike. However, he can still sell State Farm products, and from time to time, pop in the office that now bears the name of his son. Asked whether he'd joked, "Don't mess it up!" to Jason, Robert smiled. "He better not, because I told him if he does, I'll come back and have a long talk with him," Robert said with a laugh. "He's still my son, no matter how old he is." Jason responded, "He told policy holders there at the end before he retired, 'Now if you have any problems with him, you call me.'" Neither expects that to happen. "The table has turned. I'm on his payroll now," Robert said.

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